The Nature of Peckham town centre
The dynamic of Peckham town centre is influenced by the interaction of multiple parallel economies. These reflect the diversity of cultures in modern Peckham. They include those arising from mainstream economic, commercial and social daily transactions and from the modern cosmopolitan mix of multiple different ethnic, religious and secular communities. In Peckham these are now overlaid with the rapidly developing diverse artistic and creative industries.
Below the radar ‘street’ research
Much of this happens on the ‘street’ which is ‘below the radar’ of the public agencies and mainstream commerce. The LSE Cities Research Unit led by Suzi Hall has produced compelling evidence of this from detailed study of the commercial trading life in Rye Lane, the central street in Peckham town centre. A key question from this research is what can mediate between the two to produce constructive conversations, as it took an urban calamity in Peckham through the August 2013 riots for some of the below the radar life to begin to be visible to the bureaucracy. See also short film on Ordinary Streets.
Peckham as a cultural ‘hotspot’
Peckham has recently come above the radar in London as the latest artistic and creative ‘hotspot’. This has long roots but no one has yet studied this in the depth of the LSE street commerce research. But it has been obvious to locals operating at street level for several years that there was immense potential for the creative industries to take off in central Peckham. This is partly because there is a cluster of large sites in central Rye Lane where for more than two decades the artistic community has occupied some low cost spaces in Blenheim Court the railway arches behind Peckham Rye station, and across the road in the large Victorian factory, that locals have named the Bussey building. The Bussey and adjoining Copeland Park have now shown how the potential can be realised by providing spaces for a wide variety of performance arts, and for a variety of studios, workshops and venue spaces. Meanwhile the Arches Studios in Blenheim Court continue to thrive as a well integrated collective of independent artisans’ workshops, and Bar Story pioneered the use of the railway arches behind the station for a bar, restaurant and art gallery.
Another site has emerged which is rapidly taking its place in the creative and cultural cluster as a social and performance venue. The Peckham Liberal Club was successfully registered as a community asset through Peckham Vision in October 2013. Meanwhile, the CLF Art Cafe in the Bussey building is expanding with more theatre, dance and other cultural offerings, the Copeland Park is host to more varied creative and cultural uses, and new enterprises are taking root and opening at increased pace on the Peckham Rye station site. Frank's Café and Bold Tendencies on the top floors of the multi storey car park continue in the summer of 2014 to attract huge numbers of visitors to Peckham. See the map showing all these locations, and the map of the central Rye Lane cluster made up of four clusters each with increasing numbers of enterprises within them.
The Peckham Multi Storey Building has also now emerged as a major place for arts, culture and and small businesses, with the creation of over 500 jobs in Peckham Levels from 2017 to add to the activities of Peckhamplex, Bold Tendencies and Franks Cafe. Peckham Levels arose from Peckham Vision's campaign for uses to test the potential of the building for the longer term instead of demolition.
Peckham Vision was born in 2005 at the start of the campaign to save the Bussey and Copeland Park from demolition for a tram depot. The campaign publicised the potential of the site for the creative industries and in 2007 the CLF Art Cafe took root in the Bussey building and the Hannah Barry Gallery in Copeland Park. The campaign also drew attention to the neglected spaces in and around Peckham Rye station on the other side of Rye lane. The station building was listed by Peckham Society action, the idea of the new public square in front was successfully publicised and the huge Old Waiting Room on the top floor was unbricked and opened by Peckham Vision action. Meanwhile Bold Tendencies and Frank’s Café began the highly successful summer uses of the top three floors of the unused multi storey car park on the other side of the railway tracks. All these developments brought more than half a million visitors to Peckham since 2008.
Over the same time, one by one along the sides and behind the station building, innovative micro enterprises have been taking root - The Sunday Painter, Peckham Print Studio, Peckham Refreshment Rooms, Brick Brewery, Peckham Springs, Hannah Barry Gallery (final location), and recently the newly restored café delicatessen in Station Way – finding their places amidst the very Peckham mix of a hairdressers, office business shop, and African restaurant.
Rye Lane Traders’ Association
Peckham Vision worked 2012 - 2017 with independent and local traders and enterprises in the town centre to set up the Rye Lane Traders’ Association to help develop connections between businesses with mutual interests in the town centre. Connections continue to develop and grow, and also help to make effective links between the parallel economies. Peckham Vision also works closely with other local organisations with a direct interest in the town centre.
Peckham Vision as a case study
- Peckham Vision is one of 10 case studies in London for All - a handbook for community and small business groups fighting to retain workspace for London’s diverse economies. (2015) Peckham Vision’s is a story about developing local alliances and community plans for the high street, protecting studios, local businesses and historic buildings. This handbook draws on nearly two years of activities undertaken by the Just Space Economy and Planning group (JSEP). Just Space is an informal alliance of community groups, campaigns and concerned independent organisations which formed in 2007 to act as a voice for the grassroots in the formulation of the Mayor’s London Plan. JSEP formed in July 2013 in order to build capacity within Just Space to participate in and influence the development of planning policy in London on economic issues.
- In 2021, Property Week chose to highlight Peckham Vision's work as a successful example of community-led regeneration. Property Week said: "High streets are facing considerable change following the move towards online retail and the impact of the pandemic. However, there is an opportunity for local residents to work alongside businesses and urban designers to rejuvenate local centres. South London citizens’ action group Peckham Vision has been shown to be successful, but can its approach be adopted elsewhere? ..."
From the beginning in 2005, Peckham Vision has been motivated by a holistic approach to town centre issues. First, it was because of dismay at the way the Council operated the planning systems to look at individual sites almost in isolation rather than in an integrated way and how they fitted into the overall townscape and local economy. This has been evident in all the planning related to:
- The three major sites in central Rye Lane - Copeland Park and the Bussey Building, Peckham Rye Station and the Peckham Multi Storey.
- This became even more obvious in the way the plans for dominating housing blocks were planned for the area around the south of Rye Lane.
- The lack of any plans for resolving the dangerous road traffic system to the east of Rye Lane between Heaton Road and the railway bridge, while planning for increased housing and businesses unrelated to the nature of the town centre economy in Rye Lane.
- The lack of an overall plan for the north of the town centre in and around Peckham High Street and the north end of Rye Lane as a mixed residential and commercial area with too little green and open space and serious traffic management issues.
This all revealed a significant gap in the planning and town centre management processes. This was the complete absence of well designed and implemented policies for collaborative engagement of all with an interest in the good management of the town centre, ie including -
- All businesses of all sizes,
- All charitable, community and commercial organisations operating in the town centre,
- All agencies delivering services in the town centre, including especially the Council and the police.
- Local people living in and near the town centre.
- Visitors of all kinds to the town centre for a variety of reasons.
A resilient community is essential for a sustainable Peckham. Sound methods for encouraging and enabling a collaborative community process for all town centre stakeholders are essential for a sustainable Peckham.
A new local organisation CirculoCIC aims 'to facilitate a greener, cleaner and more collaborative business community'. This is an important contribution to the realisation of this vision of an integrated sustainable town centre. Its first project is to research the needs and views of the community of independent businesses in Peckham. This research will be conducted by personal interviews and also by online survey by 30 April 2022. Further information here.